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Lisa Nuyens was a member of the 2005 St. Louis corps. Her wife, Chrissy Heyne, was a 2002 Phoenix corps member. Both are on staff at Teach For America.
In 2006, the FIRST EVER Atlanta Institute was launched. I was so excited to be a part of it as a staff member. One of my roommates—Chrissy Heyne—was very outgoing, gregarious, and funny. . .and I wanted nothing to do with her! At the time, I was too busy taking myself very seriously, and this Chrissy Heyne person did not fit into that plan at all.
One afternoon I was in my room eavesdropping on a conversation Chrissy was having with a fellow staff member. She was saying really insightful, thoughtful, smart things and suddenly, it was like everything came into focus. Not only was Chrissy super fun, she was an intellectual panther who would pounce when you least expected it!
Chrissy and I became fast friends at institute—talking about educational inequity, acting out news articles (such as the infamous Matt Lauer/Britney Spears interview of 2006) and doing A LOT of karaoke to relieve the stress of the week. When the summer of 2006 ended, we vowed to keep in touch—both of us wondering if we really would.
As the years went on, Chrissy sent me the occasional care package and we kept track of each other via emails like this one, which Chrissy sent to me in the spring of 2009: “Good thing you’re not working Institute with me again, otherwise I would TOTALLY fall in love with you.” Chrissy has a true gift for hyperbole, so I would laugh this off and continue on my way.
In the fall of 2009, a group of friends planned an Atlanta Institute 2006 reunion in St. Louis. The rest, as they say, is history. Chrissy and I reunited the weekend of October 18, 2009 and we have been together ever since.
I “married” Chrissy Heyne on March 28, 2012 after almost three years together. We have two amazing children, Jonas and Ruby, who keep us busy, happy, and challenged.
You may wonder why I put the word “married” in quotation marks. You’ll often hear folks say that marriage happens in the heart—which of course it does in terms of the commitment, love, and loyalty it takes. However, in the United States, marriage actually happens through the state and federal governments. Because Chrissy and I are a same-sex couple, our marriage affords us none of the 1,138 rights, responsibilities, and protections that the federally sanctioned marriages of straight couples receive.
We are very fortunate to work for Teach For America, an organization that not only recognizes domestic partnership, but also pays for the things we are unfairly federally taxed for, even helping to cover part of the cost of Chrissy adopting her own children. But we have lived with the shadow of understanding that if something were to happen to one or both of us or our children, we will be at the mercy of a very chaotic, and possibly unsympathetic legal system.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision on gay marriage brings new hope. Our own children may no longer have to live in an inequitable system within which their parents cannot marry and our family is not protected from discrimination in many states. They may no longer have to feel like they are in a less stable position than many other children because of that.
Chrissy and I found love at the Atlanta Institute. In the spirit of “One Day,” we always knew that marriage inequality, just like education inequity, was a solvable problem. . .and today we proved it.